Foreign Aid

As founder and former President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan said, “Foreign aid and assistance is one of the basic pillars of our foreign policy. For we believe that there is no true benefit for us from the wealth that we have unless it does not also reach those in need, wherever they may be, and regardless of their nationality or beliefs.”

Since its founding, the UAE has provided significant aid to developing countries and has been a major contributor of emergency relief to regions affected by conflict and natural disasters. The fundamental purpose of UAE aid is to reduce poverty and help those in need, and the UAE has been a crucial global donor throughout the years.

Development aid in 2014 amounted to $4.9 billion. Moreover, in the 44 years since the UAE's establishment, estimated UAE aid from both the government and nongovernmental organizations has been valued around $47.4 billion – used to fund development, humanitarian and charity assistance projects. 

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the UAE became the world’s largest donor of Official Development Assistance (ODA) in 2013 and held that distinction for a second consecutive year in 2014. The UAE jumped from the 19th position in 2012 to top the OECD’s largest donors in 2013 in terms of ODA as a share of Gross National Income (GNI).  In 2013, the UAE’s official development assistance amounted to $5.2 billion – in addition to resources used to support other aid projects.

Profile of UAE Aid

On average, the largest regional recipients of UAE aid were Asia, Africa and Europe between the years 2009 and 2014. The top four sectors to which UAE donors directed their funds in 2012 were general program assistance, health, energy generation and supply and transport and storage.

The UAE's top donors have been consistent for a few years, comprising the UAE Government, Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), UAE Red Crescent, Khalifa Foundation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These top five donors contribute to 81 percent of UAE aid.

In 2013, 38 UAE donors, 17 of which were government entities, contributed to foreign assistance activities. The largest donor in the country was the UAE Government, contributing 82.6 percent of total UAE foreign assistance, compared with 44.9 percent in 2012 and 77.1 percent in 2011. The second largest that year was ADFD (7.79 percent), followed by Khalifa Foundation (3.59 percent) and UAE Red Crescent (2.62 percent). 

Development Aid

In addition to emergency and other humanitarian relief, the UAE provides development aid. In 2013, 94.6 percent of UAE assistance was given to development projects, 2.95 percent to charity and 2.45 percent to humanitarian causes.

The oldest of the UAE's development agencies is the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, which was established in 1971.  Since its inception, ADFD has provided almost $16.6 billion to 415 projects across 69 countries, including $5.6 billion in long-term loans, and $11.2 billion in government grants.  In 2013, ADFD disbursed $458.5 million for projects in 26 countries focusing on the transport and storage sector as well as infrastructure and development.

The largest recipient of UAE government development aid in 2013 was Egypt. The UAE signed an aid agreement with Egypt in 2013 aimed at strengthening the economy and financial system. Following Egypt, the remaining largest recipients of UAE development aid in 2013 were Pakistan, Jordan, Afghanistan and Palestine.

Beyond government support, the UAE’s primary aid and relief agency is the Red Crescent Authority (RCA), known as one of the world's top ten Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in terms of the volume of aid provided. RCA actively collaborates with the United Nations Office for Project Services, (UNOPS) and is responsible for providing urgent technical, logistical and administrative support to other United Nations (UN) programs.

In 2013, the RCA disbursed $154.2 million in development, humanitarian and charitable assistance to 71 countries. The top recipients of RCA aid were Palestine, Yemen and Jordan. Of this aid, 57.5 percent was allocated to development projects. The top recipient of RCA project assistance in 2013 was the "Dress One Million Needy Children Campaign" launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Type of Assistance

While much of the UAE's development assistance is provided on a government-to-government basis (78.41 percent), the country is also a major contributor to multilateral organizations (15.92 percent). During the course of the last 30 years, for example, over $27 billion has been made available through the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, according to the UAE Ministry of Finance and Industry. In addition, the UAE supports various UN development funds, including UNICEF, UNDP and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as the UN Relief Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.

Additional recipients include the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) – which was also the top multilateral recipient of UAE government aid in 2013, receiving 21.2 percent – as well as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) for a project in Afghanistan, and the World Health Organization (WHO) for a multi-country polio eradication campaign.

Country Specific Aid


Since the start of the Syria crisis in 2011, the UAE has provided $700 million in support of Syrian refugees. In 2014 alone, more than $60 million was allocated for the UN-coordinated Regional Response Plan (RRP) and Syrian Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan (SHARP), which provide food, health, water and sanitation and education services to refugees in neighboring countries, as well as those displaced internally within Syria.

The UAE has given safe haven to more than 100,000 Syrians, as well as Palestinians with Syrian documents, who have joined their families, and thousands more have arrived on visitor visas that can be renewed. This has brought up the number of Syrian residents in the UAE to more than 240,000.

Between 2012 and 2013, the UAE provided $103 million to people affected in the Syria crisis; with 13.5 million Syrians in need of immediate assistance as a result of the conflict in Syria, the UAE has responded with nearly $400 million pledged and donated in humanitarian relief. The UAE also contributed $1.25 billion to Jordan for the development of critical infrastructure. Jordan's infrastructure has been strained incredibly by the influx of Syrian refugees.

  • In September 2013, the UAE contributed $15 million to establish a trust fund for the economic recovery of Syria. The fund will provide the Friends of Syria Group with money to implement a variety of projects in Syria.
  • Mrejib al Fhood (MAF), the UAE-funded Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, has become a safe haven for some of the most vulnerable refugees crossing into the country. The 62 acre camp with a capacity of 25,000 occupants is located in Mrejib Al Fhood, 50 miles east of Amman, and cost nearly $7 million.
  • In 2006, UNHCR established a global emergency stockpile in Dubai. The UNHCR emergency stockpile in Dubai is the largest of several global stockpiles; it can cater basic relief items for up 350,000 people anywhere in the world. In early 2013, UNHCR Dubai sent 28 trucks of relief items to both Syria and Jordan, along with staff and office support items to Turkey. Additionally, 33 vehicles, carrying $1.2 million of relief aid, left the UNHCR warehouse in August 2013 on a two-week transport journey through Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The convoy carried supplies for more than 100,000 people.


Yemen has remained high on the UAE's list of aid recipient countries since 2011. To date, the UAE has donated more than $900 million in aid and reconstruction support to Yemen. In addition to financial foreign assistance, the UAE has continued supporting Yemen as the conflict continues, taking part in the Saudi-led coalition combating the Houthis to restore the legitimate Yemeni government. The country continues to face enormous humanitarian challenges, where the UAE has estimated that 20.4 million people in Yemen are in need of water and sanitation assistance, 15.2 million are in need of basic healthcare and 12.3 million are food insecure. Another estimated 11.4 million people are in need of protection assistance and 2.9 million children are without access to education. There are also 1.5 million women and children in need of nutrition services and 1 million internally displaced people in the country. UAE assistance supports projects in a range of sectors, including health, food aid, economic recovery and education, among others. 
UAE President HH Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan pledged $136 million of food aid for 1 million people over the next three years. The food aid is purchased at local markets in order to stimulate the local economy, and has already reached over 75,000 families. 

Dubai Cares was the largest contributor with regard to education projects in Yemen. In conjunction with Save the Children, Dubai Cares worked to improve school enrollment among vulnerable groups, especially girls, and to improve the quality of education. The program was initiated in 2008, and aims to benefit around 46,000 children.


Egypt was the number one recipient of UAE development aid in 2013 and 2014, receiving $4.63 billion and $3.2 billion, an initiative managed by the Egypt Task Force (ETF) and headed by HE Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of State. In 2012, Egypt received over $22 million dollars in humanitarian aid from the UAE.

Since the removal of Mohamed Morsi as president in July 2013, the UAE has significantly elevated its support to Egypt. In October 2013, the UAE signed an aid agreement with Egypt to help the Egyptian economy recover. This includes a grant to the Central Bank, as well as:

  • Support for various sectors of the economy, including:
    • Funds to help pay for Egypt's fuel and hydrocarbon needs
    • Support for development projects, like the construction of more than 50,000 housing units, as well as schools, health-care centers, grain silos and waste treatment facilities
  • A non-interest bearing UAE deposit in the Egyptian Central Bank to help stabilize the Egyptian pound

The UAE co-hosted the Egypt/GCC investment Forum in Cairo in December 2013, with Egypt's Minister of Investment under the patronage of the Egyptian Prime Minister; the main sponsors from the UAE private sector were: Arabtec, Emaar, Masdar, Etisalat and Dana Gas. The UAE also worked with the Egyptian government on the Egypt Economic Development Conference that took place in Sharm Al-Sheikh in March 2015, which had a tremendous turnout.


In 2013, the UAE reaffirmed its longstanding commitment to supporting Afghanistan as donor organizations disbursed grants worth a combined total of $117.5 million towards 37 wide-ranging foreign aid projects – including development assistance, charitable projects and humanitarian and emergency relief. This represents an increase of 17.6 percent in disbursements from 2012, and an increase of 188 percent in funding from 2011.

The Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (MASDAR) granted $15.5 million for the construction of a solar energy power plant with an output of 160 kilowatts to supply eight isolated villages with electricity. Additionally, the Zayed Foundation disbursed funds to support a hospital specializing in maternity care and pediatrics in Kabul. Further assistance was provided by a $40 million grant from ADFD to construct 4,000 low-cost housing units in Kabul and $8 million for three road and bridge construction projects.